At the number 24 overall pick in a weak draft, not many teams can expect to get an impact player. Fortunately for the New York Knicks last year, they may have had the steal of the night grabbing Michigan sharp shooter Tim Hardaway Jr.
In his first year in Blue and Orange, Hardaway Jr. emerged as a great energy guy off the bench. Whether it was fast break dunks or his streaky three point shooting to get the Garden rocking, Hardaway Jr.’s hard work translated into more playing time. By the end of the year, he was averaging just over 23 minutes per game as he virtually supplanted the zero offense Iman Shumpert.
Having made the All Rookie First Team, big things are expected out of the second year guard. While he averaged a solid 10.2 points per game on 43% shooting, there is still a lot of room for improvement. And Hardaway Jr. knows it; just watch his performance in the Las Vegas Summer League.
In 5 games out West, Hardaway Jr. gave Knick fans a glimpse of what could be in store for the future. The 6’6″ shooting guard was a prolific scorer averaging 22.8 points per game in 26.6 minutes. Now obviously the competition isn’t even comparable to the NBA game, but if you watched the way he scored those points, it was easy to see how he has grown as a player. Instead of settling for threes like he did in his rookie season, often Hardaway Jr. would use a one dribble and up move to shake his defender, or simply put the ball on the ground and take it strong and in control to the basket. The no fear attitude translates no matter who or where you are playing.
With a new regime now in control of the Knicks, look for them to invest more in their younger players and move out some of the veterans. Earlier in the summer, the Knicks were desperately trying to deal one of J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert. While this creates the cap flexibility the Knicks sought at the time, they also needed to find a way to get more minutes for Hardaway Jr.
Seeing Shumpert is one of the Knicks’ few tradable assets (Smith is virtually untradeable), Phil Jackson and brass may still move the offensively challenged two guard at some point next season. The triangle offense creates great opportunities for spot up shooters to shine (just ask Steve Kerr), which then allows Hardaway Jr. to have even more open jump shots than last year. He shot 36% from three this past season and then shot 38% in a small summer league sample, so it would not be out of the ordinary to expect the second year guard to shoot very close to 40% from downtown.In his rookie season, 52% of his shots came from beyond the arc, so even the slightest increase in shooting percentage will have a large impact on his points per game.
Provided Hardaway Jr. becomes less of a defensive liability this season, he will bring too much talent offensively to sit on the bench. His per 36 minutes last season had him at 15.8 points per game and 2.3 rebounds, while his per 100 possessions averages were 23.4 points and 3.4 rebounds. Of course, Hardaway Jr. won’t play every minute of the game, but he certainly will become even more effective with more playing time. If Smith gets off to another horrible start to the season, the second year player out of Michigan should see the bulk of the minutes alongside Jose Calderon in the backcourt.
Expect big things out of Tim Hardaway Jr. in his sophomore year. The new offense will cater more to his strengths as a shooter allowing him to play more minutes to keep the floor spread. Jose Calderon’s ability to drive and kick to the perimeter and the elimination of the “pass to Carmelo Anthony and stand” game plan will give Hardaway Jr. an opportunity to become the Knicks second best scorer.
2013-2014 Statistics: 10.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.8 apg, 36.3% 3P
2014-2015 Projection: 14.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 39% 3P